November 1, 2010

Internal copyeditors, and other science news…


Science News (via, via) reports that typists have two neural systems that check for typos when they write. The conscious system pays attention to the words being written and looks for errors. The other, subconscious, system relies on the brain’s motor memory for what a correct word should “feel” like when typing. The Vanderbilt University study discovered that:

After hitting the wrong key, a typist’s fingers slowed down for the next keystroke, even if the researchers sneakily fixed the error so that the typist didn’t notice it. In these cases, a typist wasn’t explicitly aware of the mistake, but the brain’s motor signal changed nevertheless.

Whenever I hear about the parts of the brain that operate without thought, I don’t know what to think. On one hand, it’s nice to now that my fingers automatically sense and check for typos. On the other hand, I wish they’d also inform my conscious brain what they’re up to.

(Case in point: in the paragraph below, my fingers decided to initially write “Carol” instead of “Carl.” Thanks brain.)

And, in somewhat related news, here is a gorgeous slide show from the new coffee table book Portraits of the Mind by neuroscientist Carl Schoonover. This image of a chick’s retina, which shows the biological parts that convert visual light to information the brain can “see,” wouldn’t look out of place at the Whitney: